Marriage and Caregiving Can Go Together

When I got married, I did not expect to get divorced.  That is probably what every divorced person says.  It’s almost funny.  It’s funny because it’s true.  I expected it to be hard.  I expected it to even be an ordeal at times.  I also expected it to be good.

So, what went wrong?

I don’t have any divorced friends.  I am the black sheep within my social circle now.  I’m also very private by nature so only a select few know the real truth behind my divorce–the reasons I ended it.

Domestic abuse.

I’ve been silent for a while on this blog because I’ve been active elsewhere, documenting the entire process.  It’s kept me sane.

That’s not what I’m here to discuss though.  I’m here to talk about how caring for children with special needs and/or disabilities can and will impact your marriage.  How it will distill your personalities and reveal the flaws and what you can do about it so that you become better, not run over in the process of caregiving.

My marriage was never great.  That should be stated.  It wasn’t even good.  It was middling.  We should never have had children together, and I don’t mean that in a regretful way.  What I mean is that children should be born into a family where they are equally desired by both parents.  In retrospect, I don’t think he wanted them or knew what it meant to be a father.  A good father anyway.  He was the distant, uninvolved father who worked, brought home the paycheck, and involved himself with them at his convenience.  He was Generation X’s Don Draper.

He also rarely involved himself with me in meaningful ways.  One of his favorite ways to spend time was sitting in bed together, parallel reading.  I had something different in mind when it came to spending time in bed together, but he was not generally up for that–unless I wasn’t.  Then suddenly he was.  There were always games afoot.  Psychological warfare.  These games made him the victim in our relationship and in his life.  I didn’t see it until our youngest daughter was born.

Milly was our first daughter to be diagnosed with anything.  She was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and anxiety along with sensory processing disorder at 4 years-old.  She, however, came into this world an overwhelmed mess.  She did not sleep as an infant or toddler which meant that I didn’t sleep.  I was diagnosed with chronic migraine disease and fibromyalgia a little before her diagnosis all due to four years of sleep deprivation and the strain of caring for a young child with some kind of undiagnosed disorder.  That was when I started getting sick.  That was also when he started hiding–running away from parental responsibilities.  In the midst of my search for answers as to why our daughter screamed constantly, he yelled at me, saying, “You just want something to be wrong with her!”

Pause and observe this.  This is denial, and this is a common reaction in couples.  One person in the coupling usually denies or minimizes the child’s “issues” and, statistically speaking, it’s usually the father.  I don’t know why.  It’s a frightening proposition to be faced with.  A sick child.  The “what if” script starts: “What if…what if…what if…”  A natural response might be to run away and pretend that nothing is wrong.  Another reaction is to blame the partner.  They might be doing something to make the child behave that way.  Is it the day care? Is it the in-laws? Is it your faulty genetics? Blame comes on the heels of denial, but blame is simply the emission of anger and emotional discomfort aimed at a target.  We all do it.

It is in this moment, however, when those first wedges are driven into relationships.  When one parent is seeking answers to help a potentially sick child while the other denies and shifts the blame.  This is what sets the stage for marital discord down the road.  Why? It erodes trust, and trust is the currency in all relationships.  In close relationships, I have to know that you have my back, and you must know that I have yours.  When your child is potentially ill and in need of help, that is the moment to come together and share fears.  So when one partner uses the other for target practice, that is a betrayal of that most sacred trust.  It is a form of abandonment within the relationship not to mention one partner has just left the other partner to figure out the problems all on their own.  The relationship was temporarily sacrificed as a coping strategy.

What happens from there? The abandoned partner usually begins remembering all the other times they were abandoned by their mate.  It’s a gestalt experience.  And the seeds of discord have not only been sown but are now being fertilized.  Depending upon emotional maturity, character development, and past issues with one’s family of origin, a person can either get past this or not.  I’ve seen this dynamic play out within other relationships wherein there were children in the middle of receiving a diagnosis, and it definitely played out within my own marriage.  It was a devastating experience.  As the primary caregiver, it caused feelings of isolation, anxiety, and fear, and I didn’t know who to turn to.  My spouse wasn’t on the list because he removed himself.  As far as he was concerned, his kid was fine, and, if his kid was fine, then I was fine, too.

Then, Grace got sick.  There’s nothing like a psychotic episode to wake a person from their oblivious slumber.  His denial reigned supreme.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Eadaoin hit puberty and bipolar disorder came to the surface.  It was like someone signed us up for some kind of nightmare roller coaster ride, and we couldn’t get off.  I was barely holding it together, and I kept looking to him for some kind of support.  Anything.  He just locked himself away in our bedroom which he had turned into his office.  I had nowhere to go.  I thought that if we could maintain some kind of connection–any kind–maybe we could rely on each other for something.  I pushed for sexual connection.  That’s when the worst of the domestic abuse started.  Clearly, he didn’t want to be involved in anything.  We were on our own.

A year after I had corrective surgery on a hip injury he caused I called it: “I think it’s over.”

He agreed.

So, what is to be learned here?

  1. Always put on your oxygen mask first.  What does this mean? Tend to your stuff! If that means going to therapy, then go.  If that means going to the doctor for a physical, then go.  If that means joining a gym and getting in shape, then go.  If that means changing jobs, then do it.  There is only one you, and, if you are a caregiver, then someone really needs you.  Take care of yourself so that you can be present.  More than that, if you are in a long-term relationship, then be the person who you would want to be in a relationship with.  I can’t emphasize that point enough.  Someone chose you.  They met you, liked you, and then fell in love.  With you.  They decided that they wanted to spend their life with you.  That’s a very big deal.  Never forget that they can always change their mind should you suddenly become a total dick.  I’m being frank here because it needs to be said.  We must always be developing our character and maturing our personality as well as taking care of our bodies so that we can rise to the circumstances that life throws our way.  This is why you must, must, must make your health, well-being, and ontological state a priority.
  2. Assess the state of your relationships.  Doing a survey of how you are doing in your relationships is key to developing your character as well as addressing bad habits that naturally develop over time.  Are you known for anything in particular by your friends and family? Are you the person who loses their temper? Well, get on that.  It’s time to be known for something better.  Are you always late? For everything? Develop your empathy and address that shortcoming.  Doing an honest personal inventory of who you are now vs. who you would like to be is a courageous and valuable thing to do.  It sets a course and provides a spark of momentum.  It’s intentional and says to the important people in your life, “You matter to me.  I know that I affect you.  I want to do better by being better.”
  3. Make amends.  This is a hard one, but it goes a long way.  Talk to the people in your life.  Had my ex-husband and I actually discussed past hurts in a meaningful way and combined them with a plan to heal the wounds (this is accountability), there might be less pain today.  He was never able to engage me in any kind of emotional discussion.  Nothing was ever addressed.  So, I was never able to hold him accountable for anything.  In the end, I was blamed for my own abuse.
  4. Grow up.  I know many people who hold onto childhood dreams of what family and marriage should look like.  They insist on keeping certain traditions alive because they find it personally fulfilling, but it hurts their family relationships.  When you have children with special needs, nothing in your life will ever be all-or-nothing again.  Everything will become about compromising, and you will take the hits.  This will feel painful to you.  I guarantee that.  You will have a moment, at least one, when you step back and look at the landscape of your life, and it will feel utterly unfamiliar to you.  This feeling of depersonalization often ushers in the experience of grief.  It’s at this moment when you feel just how hard it all is.  How much you have lost.  Just be honest with yourself and let it flow.  It’s okay.  You can see the good in the child or children you love while feeling hurt and betrayed at the same time.  That’s the dialectic of caregiving.
  5. Do a proper grief work.  If you do a proper grief work together, sharing your experiences with each other, then you will grow closer.  Ordeal is one of the best bonding experiences.  My ex-husband never went to the hospital with Grace and me.  He never went to an appointment.  He never went to the Behavioral Health ER either.  You know who did? Girlfriends.  Do you know who I am close to now? Girlfriends.  My girlfriends and I remember those early days of the disease onset, and we can even laugh about it as macabre as that sounds.  We were scared together.  They loved Grace, too.  So, I grieved with them instead of with my husband since he never left the bedroom.
  6. Stick together.  Above all, be a couple.  You were together before you had children.  Don’t ever forget that.  Find at least one thing that makes you feel connected and commit yourselves to it.  Never give that up.  If it’s sex, then have sex often.  If it’s hiking, then hike as often as you can.  If it’s watching sports together or playing sports together, then get out there and do it.  Protect your relationship fiercely.  Do not let in-laws tread upon it no matter how well-meaning they are.  This is your relationship.  Make it the number one priority in your life.  Even above your kids.

This is what I have learned after nineteen and half years of marriage and nine months of separation with a pending divorce.  I have never been someone to look to statistics for answers.  Of course, now I am a statistic.  You don’t have to be.

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Endings and Beginnings

2014 is coming to a close, and I am so glad.  This has been one helluva year.  I’m having yet another brain MRI today–the day after Christmas.  The year has to go out with a bang, I guess.  Well, I say, let it! So long as 2015 is inaugurated with celebration.  We made it through 2014, and we’re better for it.

My girls and I spent an afternoon with one of my favorite friends the day before Christmas Eve.  Our two families have had a tradition for a decade now.  We get together and make gingerbread houses.  When we began this tradition, our children were young, and it was really just the two of us frosting and decorating the cookie cottages while attempting to keep the little hands from stealing all the candies.  Odd traditions began.  My friend would unfailingly put the roof on her house upside down.  Every year! She would yell out in frustration, “How could I do this again?!” This year, however, we reminisced about all those imperfections and repeated errors.  It has become mandatory that she put her roof on upside down.  It’s part of the charm.  Our kids, however, took over all the decorating this time.  Eadaoin is sixteen this year.  My friend’s daughter is eleven.  The kids no longer needed our help or advice.

We were able to relax in her living room with our warm beverages and chat while our kids decorated the gingerbread houses completely on their own–even Grace.  What a strange feeling.  She asked how I was doing.  Being a close girlfriend, she went for the jugular: “How’s the marriage?”

Isn’t it funny how girlfriends waste no time? We simply ask.  There is no chit-chat.  My answer? Everyone who reads my blog knows that this year has been grueling.  “Better.”  2013 ended on a precarious note where my marriage was concerned.  2014 will end on a better note.  Perhaps in a major key.

So, what happened? I’ll be as honest as I can be in hopes that it might help someone else should they find themselves in a similar spot.  The day I began writing this blog, the clinicians treating Grace–and there were many–believed that she was bipolar.  Within a month of that diagnosis she declined rapidly and was then diagnosed with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder.  She was not yet 11 years-old.  Her overall decline from healthy child to psychotic happened in less than a year.  It changed our entire family life.  Eadaoin is in therapy today, in part, due to witnessing Grace’s psychosis onset.  Doireann is a completely different young woman today because of Grace’s disease.  We are all different now.  Severe mental illness in a family affects everyone, and everyone behaves differently in terms of coping strategies.

Ordeal has a way of distilling personalities and bringing forth cracks within character and the relationships therein.  I am inherently tenacious.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  I do not give up.  I will hone in on a problem and attempt to fix it until it is no longer a problem or until I have died.  This approach to life worked well where Grace was concerned.  This approach to life worked well in almost all former circumstances.  It does not work well within a marriage when the problem is perceived to be a person.

My husband is as avoidant as I am tenacious.  This is his primary character flaw.  We are both exceedingly stubborn in our positions.  The more I pushed him to deal with those things that increased his anxiety, the more inert he became.  This only increased my drive to “solve him”.  What I did not understand was that he was coping with watching his daughter fall apart by using avoidance–his primary coping strategy.  Avoidance behavior is one of the go-to coping strategies used by those with anxiety disorders.  I do know this, but I couldn’t grasp it at the time.  How does one avoid one’s entire family? Why? One does this because one really lacks the capacity to deal with what is happening.

I observed this and insisted that he see a doctor in order to start anti-anxiety medication.  After almost 17 years of living with his anxiety disorder, I needed him to get his head in the game.  I needed my partner, my friend! I couldn’t do all this alone.  So, I issued him an ultimatum.  How awesome.  Ultimatums are never great, but he did see his internist for a physical.  It was then that he casually mentioned his anxiety.  He was given the standard anxiety check list; he passed it with flying colors.  He left with a prescription for Zoloft.  That’s it.

I must pause and say this.  If a person sees a psychiatrist, then one goes back to the psychiatrist every four weeks after beginning a new medication to discuss how one feels after beginning the drug.  The drug is tweaked or even discontinued in favor of a better or different one.  Internists should not manage psychiatric conditions.  This is where we went wrong, and this is also where I knew we were going wrong.  Recall what I said about my husband’s inertia.  Inertia was settling in at this point.

My husband had never taken a medication for his anxiety.  He had self-medicated with alcohol.  He stopped using alcohol at this point in favor of Zoloft.

A word about Zoloft: Zoloft is an SSRI.  On the spectrum of SSRIs, it is the most emotionally blunting while Prozac is the most activating.  Zoloft is also not a well-known anti-anxiety drug.  It does have some effectiveness for social anxiety, but it is not effective for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).  Lexapro, on the other hand, is in the middle of the SSRI spectrum as far as emotional blunting and activation.  It is also known to treat depressive symptoms as well as anxiety without some of the better known side effects like suicidal and self-harming ideation for which Zoloft is known.

My husband, however, had never known life without his crippling anxiety, and Zoloft’s emotional blunting was just what he was looking for.  That dead feeling inside that the drug provided helped him cope with his own life as a father, provider, husband, and man.  He liked it.  He liked it a lot.  Perhaps he even needed it.  I, on the other hand, despised it.  He went from an anxious but likable man to a vacant, emotional corpse of a human being.  It seemed that there was no middle ground.  It was one extreme or another.

He disappeared from our entire life, but, in his mind, he was present.  He wasn’t.  He was like a wraith.  We stopped having sex.  For two years.  He had no desire.  In fact, he had no desire for anything.  He described it as feeling paralyzed under a heavy blanket, but he sort of liked it.  He just wanted to do nothing.  He wanted to lie in bed all the time or sit in his room.  He slept all the time.  A ridiculous amount of time.  He, however, was not anxious.  I don’t think he felt anything, and that’s the point of Zoloft.  Imagine a person who feels too much or a person who is completely overwhelmed to the point of being almost non-functional.  Zoloft would be very helpful because it would provide a much needed emotional balance.  Or, perhaps not feeling very much for a time would be helpful in order to learn to think rather than feel all the time.  A drug like Zoloft can be very helpful given the right brain and circumstances.  It was, however, not the right drug for my husband.

After living with him for almost two years on this drug, I truly began to believe that perhaps I was worthless and unlovable.  He did almost completely ignore me almost all the time.  There was, however, much to be learned here.  At some point in the middle of this, I realized that, as a woman, I gleaned a great deal of self-worth from the success of my relationships.  This is a rather female point of view.  I gave up a career to stay home and raise my daughters after all.  It’s not as if I have a career to fall back on at this point.  In my mind, what does it say about me if, after all this time, I come out of this with a shitty marriage and mentally ill children? I thought I had to be Martha Stewart for Pete’s sake!

What now? What if he really didn’t love me anymore? I had to get a life.  That was the loudest message that I heard throughout 2014.  Build a life.  I saw it everywhere.  A stranger in a restaurant even came up to me and told me that very thing if you can believe it–“Don’t wait for your husband to figure out what he wants.  Go out there and do what makes you happy.  Build a life for yourself.”  What an empowering message.  So, I stopped looking at him and what he was doing.  I started looking at me.  I aimed that tenacity at myself and left him alone.  I let him sit alone in our bedroom for months on end.  I let him sleep the days away.  I started making weekend plans with the girls.  I started…living.  It was hard because I felt like I was leaving something behind.  Something symbolic.  I realized, however, that we must always be bringing something vital into our relationships.  We must always be building our own happiness and internal resources as individuals if we are to attempt to build something worthwhile with another person.  Grace’s illness tapped me out, and I became so focused on her and my other daughters.  I forgot that I was a separate person, too.

So, what happened? He felt my emotional departure.  I didn’t abandon him.  I simply left him alone, and that changed the dynamic in our relationship.  He started asking to join me on our outings.  He was still emotionally comatose, and I was still seething with resentment; but, something was thawing.  Two months ago, he finally saw a psychiatrist, and she switched him from Zoloft to Lexapro.  He recently told me that he had no idea just how dead he felt on the inside on Zoloft until he didn’t feel that way anymore.  He then said, “I should have never been on that medication.”

Yes, I wanted to punch him.  The past two years have gutted me.  Our marriage has suffered in ways that I never thought it would, but perhaps it needed gutting.  There was never going to be an easy way through this leg of the journey with Grace.  It was always going to be horrendous.  We did what we had to do.  I, however, wonder if my health would be better today had he not abandoned ship as he did.

So, what’s the takeaway? I suppose that it’s this: Even if everyone else abandons you, don’t abandon yourself.  There will be crises in life.  Once those crises settle, come back to yourself.  In the end, no one is going to take better care of you than you.  Man or woman, we must always invest in our own development and healing.  That says that we are worthwhile and lovable.  We can’t expect others to love us if we don’t love ourselves.  It is, therefore, crucial that you find those expressions of self-love that are meaningful to you and claim them.  Make them a part of your life in a consistent way.  In this way, you will learn to weather the storms in life be they circumstantial, relational, or existential.  And practice the art of forgiveness.  This has been my greatest challenge and lifesaver.  Learning to move forward without giving up self-respect and, at the same time, granting pardon.  This is the grittiness of life. This is the hard stuff.  Knowing that pain and love often weave themselves together as we grow, and one doesn’t cancel out the other.  They often coexist.  Forgiveness doesn’t ease the pain, and pain doesn’t minimize love.

This is what I’ve learned in 2014.  It’s been a very painful year, but, as I said, I’m better for it.

I hope that as 2014 ends you are able to see where your paths have taken you, find a new horizon line, and begin the next leg of your journey with hope.

Shalom…

Putting on Our Oxygen Masks First

Put on your oxygen mask first.  I’ve been told this a lot.  It’s not advice I’ve really taken to heart nor truly understood, and I’m not the first mother or caregiver to admit that.  At least I’m pretty sure I’m not.  It isn’t because I’m a martyr.  I’m not.  That was my mother.  “I’ll just sit over here while everyone has a good time over there! I won’t have a good time! I’ll cry! I’ll be sure to look like I just ate a lemon, too!”

Our mothers.  They do have an influence on us and how we parent particularly if we are women.  I am who I am as a woman and mother, in part, because of who my mother is.  I see that so clearly now.  The epiphany hit me while we were decorating our Christmas tree oddly enough.  Grace and Milly chose the Christmas-themed movie again.  Last year, they chose “Elf”.  This year, they chose “Home Alone 2”.  My husband groaned at that, but I think it’s a funny movie.  I happen to like the pratfalls and the chemistry between Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.  As we watched the plot unfold, once again seeing young Kevin get left behind but this time at the airport, I remembered my mother.  It wasn’t a painful memory.  Just a reappearance of forgotten facts.  My mother left me at the airport when I was about seven years-old except, unlike Kevin’s parents, she did it on purpose.

It was a strange thing to ponder.  The juxtaposition of experiences wasn’t lost on me.  Remembering my mother’s behavior and my childhood predicament in the midst of decorating the Christmas tree with my own family was surreal.  As a child, I recall thinking that it was normal for my mother to do odd things, and I never thought much of it.  She dropped me off at the airport on a Friday afternoon and simply left me there.  She had “plans” i.e. It was Friday night in 1979.  Let your imagination run wild, and you’d probably land on the right thing when it comes to my mother in the 70s.  I was supposed to take a flight to a tiny airport near Louisiana where my father lived only the flight was cancelled, and I was alone and essentially abandoned at the airport.  She never stayed to see to it that I actually boarded a flight that took off.  I was at the airport until the wee hours of the morning hanging out with the flight attendants in their “room”.  I remember that they smoked and talked about dating, handsome pilots, and sex.  It was the 70s after all.  My father was forced to drive two hours to retrieve me because my mother was unavailable after she left me at the airport.  He finally arrived at almost 3 AM.

All this is to say that it occurred to me in a tangible way that my mother was an irresponsible party girl who simply abandoned her young child at one of the largest airports in the United States so that she could go out and get drunk and get laid.  I’ve always known that on some level, but I really understood that on Friday night.  And, I’ve spent a huge portion of my life not being like her. Defining myself in terms of being her opposite. Where she spent her entire life only putting on her own oxygen mask, even stealing everyone else’s, I have spent my life making sure everyone else had theirs at the expense of myself, in part, to prove to myself and others that I am nothing like her.

This is the root of my caretaking.  Not caregiving.  Caretaking.  Why discuss this? I’m talking about this because it’s December 1.  For many, the advent of the holiday season is the beginning of the most stressful time of year.  We caretake by spending too much money on everyone at the expense of our own financial health.  Guilty! We do too much, never saying no, because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  We stay up far too late baking, preparing, decorating, and making sure that everyone else has a meaningful holiday even though we might feel like we’re going to collapse.  We feel as if we’re responsible for everything even though we’re not, but when you’re a caregiver you are responsible for a lot.  This is a triggering experience because it can bleed into old caretaking habits and beliefs like, “I’m responsible for you and your happiness.” So, we put on everyone else’s oxygen mask and become too exhausted to put on our own.

Some people get an emotional charge from doing this.  They need to feel needed.  It gives them a sense of worth.  Me? That was never my thing.  I tend to feel cloistered.  I needed to know that I wasn’t her, and, at the same time, she parentified me.  I was forced into that caretaking role at a very young age.  Children of alcoholics will be familiar with this dynamic.  The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is a personal, fearless inventory and be honest.  Is this familiar?

Do you find yourself always concerned about other people’s needs? Do you feel that your needs don’t really count? Do you feel as though you have to take care of other people’s feelings, but no one seems to care about yours? Are you surrounded by people who need you? Is your self-worth dependent on being needed?

Do you go out of your way to make sure that you don’t cause anyone discomfort? Do you find yourself trying to help someone with an addiction, but you just enable them to continue? Do you believe that you know better than other people how they should run their lives?

If you have the Caretaking Pattern, you are caring and compassionate toward others, but often at the expense of your own needs or desires. If you have this pattern strongly, you will find yourself constantly taking care of others, financially, logistically, and emotionally. At some level, though, your caring comes with some strings attached. You have a deep desire to be appreciated for all that you give to others, rather than giving without concern about what you get back. You may hope that people will like you or not leave you in return for your efforts.

You may take pride in being a “mind reader.” With a strong Caretaking Pattern, you get a lift from providing assistance that you believe people need, even before they ask for it. You may frequently give too much help, and often at the expense of taking care of yourself. You may regularly be the last person to leave a party even when you’re exhausted because you’re always helping the host tidy up. You may believe that all of your giving to others is building up a pool of help and favors that you can call upon someday. Or you may believe that by reading the minds of your loved ones, you will be able to expect them to do the same for you—that they will know and deliver the support you want without you ever having to ask.

Some level of the desire to help others is natural and healthy. We are, after all, social beings who need interpersonal support to get along in the world. But if you find yourself regularly sacrificing your own comfort for the sake of helping someone else—for instance, if you give up a therapeutic massage appointment because your sister “just has to have your opinion” on a new couch she’s buying—you very likely have the Caretaking Pattern.

In fact, your Caretaking part may assume that other people aren’t as capable of taking care of themselves as you are. You might believe that you “know better” when it comes to what would be good for someone else. Unless this person is a small child, though, it is unlikely that your perception of someone else’s needs is more valid than their own.

For a variety of reasons, you may not have received feedback from others that your Caretaking is a problem. If you have the Caretaking Pattern, you probably attract people who may, on some level, like being taken care of or who become dependent on you. If you have a Caretaking Pattern, you may have people in your life whom you believe would suffer if you were to stop caretaking them, and you may have a sense of enjoying “being needed.”

The key to knowing if you have the Caretaking Pattern is to look at how often you are meeting your own needs. If you are always putting yourself last, if you are tired and feel as though you are responsible for making sure other people are okay emotionally, logistically, or financially, you have the Caretaking Pattern.

False Belief of the Caretaking Pattern: I am responsible for other people’s feelings. I must do what I can to make them happy and keep them from feeling pain or discomfort. (from Beyond Caretaking)

Be good to yourself this holiday season and put on your oxygen mask first.  If that idea is foreign to you, makes you feel guilty, or even causes you to think something like, “I can’t do that! What about ______?”, then explore those responses.  Develop some curiosity around why your needs are secondary to everyone else’s.  I know what drives me.  It takes time to learn new habits even when you know what you should be doing.  The ‘doing’ is the hard part.  Let this be a gift to yourself and consequently those you love.  The gifts of personal responsibility, respect for boundaries, and autonomy are three of the best things that you can offer someone.  In turn, you are left with a sense of freedom, a sense of self, and personal empowerment.  The result? Peace within our relationships.  Whatever your belief system, peace is one of the primary blessings of the holiday season.  It is one of the wishes that everyone passes on to another during this time of year.

Shalom.  Peace.  Pax vobiscum.  Peace on Earth.  Good will towards men.

May that be true for you as we all find our way through the din of the holidays.  May you make your peace as you put on your oxygen mask first.

Shalom…

Resources:

Beyond Caretaking: Balancing Giving with Self-Care by Jay Earley PhD

Dr. Earley’s website

Stop Caretaking the Borderline of Narcissist: How to End the Drama and Get on with Life by Margalis Fjelstad

 

Interesting Times

This is in no way a helpful post.  This is a, “I’ve been in the house for a month, and I’m going crazy” post.

I will never take my ability to drive a car or simply walk anywhere or carry a cup of coffee or get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or empty the dishwasher or my self-reliance for granted.

I am still on crutches.  Four weeks didn’t seem so long when Dr. A told me about it in the pre-op appointment, but you know how cocky those bone breakers are.  “It’s four weeks on crutches and three months of PT.”  Three months is a long time.  Four weeks? I guess that’s not so bad.

It’s bad.  It’s bad because it isn’t four weeks on crutches.  It’s four weeks of 10% weight-bearing on the surgical side.  After four weeks, it’s another two weeks of practicing weight-bearing which is a long and painful process.  So, really, it’s another two weeks of trying to learn to walk again, and I still can’t drive! Well, I can only drive a few blocks.  This is intolerable! Yesterday was my first day of beginning the weight-bearing exercises.  I did not enjoy it.  I am trying to remember that I once walked.  Surely, I will walk again and this will be but a happy memory.  It feels like an impossibility right now.  I never imagined that a torn anything in a hip could cause this much trouble!

What has been the most interesting thing in this entire endeavor, however, has been observing my husband.  I’ve written a little bit on this blog about my marriage.  The past two years have been challenging what with Grace’s sharp decline.  It’s not uncommon to experience relational difficulties when a child is diagnosed with a severe health condition or mental illness.  I have been down and out.  I can’t go into the basement to do laundry.  I can’t carry the laundry baskets.  I can’t really clean anything.  I can’t vacuum.  I am just now able to get into the kitchen and cook although it’s awkward as hell.  He has had to do everything, and this is a man who has never done that.

I have suspected for a few years now that he was on the autism spectrum–high functioning, mind you.  He is so similar to our youngest daughter in temperament.  He has on more than a few occasions said how similar he was to her as a child.  She has high-functioning autism (HFA).  Part of me has wanted to dismiss this idea because I have wanted to believe that all his quirks and very annoying habits would change given time and effort.  I have, however, only seen the chasm between us grow wider over the past two years.  In the wake of Grace’s illness, I have sought greater emotional intimacy, and he has sought out more time alone.  He has morphed into Spock, that pointy-eared bastard as Bones once called him, and I have become the single-minded and overly emotional Jim Kirk.  We are at odds.  All the time.

So, forced into a submissive state of dependence, I have observed.  I have done my best to practice what I have internalized from DBT.  Observing without judging.  It is amazing what can be learned when we suspend judgment.  I have watched a man try as hard as he can to look after me and meet my needs while trying his hardest to meet the needs of his children.  The physical needs.  Driving to and from school.  Feeding.  Doing laundry.  Helping with homework.  I can help with homework, but this was physics homework.  I will hiss and skitter under furniture at the mere mention of the P-word.  He has gone to the grocery store.  He has barely worked.

What I have seen is that he can’t be emotional and practical at the same time.  He has modes of operation.  Sort of like Mr. Rogers and his sweater.  He requires a ritual to move from one mode to another.  I could write at length about the rituals he requires to make the transition from one persona to another and his intense need for solitude.  This lack of emotional affect or even cognitive empathy, however, is what causes him to act like an asshole.  He isn’t trying to be a jerk.  He just isn’t able to infuse any of his actions with any meaningful emotional content.  He behaves like Spock.  If I’m Jim Kirk in the relationship, then I’m constantly trying to provoke an emotional response in him which looks like baiting behavior.  Where’s the passion, Spock? Why do you appear to be so cold? Do you even care about us? You look miserable!

His response is completely rational.  Of course, he cares.  Look at what he’s doing.  He ticks off what needs to be done.  We are provided for.  Once the items are checked off the list, he then retreats into his bedroom and disappears for hours.  If we need him, we simply need to tell him.  He cannot anticipate a need.  He cannot read the cues.  He does ask so that he’ll know, but he will never be capable of “reading” people or a situation and understanding what is required.  Emotional intimacy is not something that he truly wants.  He doesn’t have a social drive.  He wants his family to be happy.  He works hard to provide opportunities so that we can pursue happiness.  It never occurred to me that he didn’t see himself as a part of that happiness.  He saw us going out into the world to engage in that pursuit while he happily stayed in his cloister pursuing his.  It is a shock to me.

This is what I have learned during my convalescence.  I told him the night before last very casually that I wondered if Milly might have inherited her ASD from him.  “I wonder if you might be very high functioning on the autism spectrum.”  His response? “Oh, I know that I am.”

Really? Since when? And, if that’s true, then what does that mean going forward?

Uhura loved Spock.  Jim was his friend.  On any given day lately, this is my inner monologue:

 

Interesting times, interesting times.  It’s a good thing he doesn’t have bangs (watch the clip to understand the reference).

 

Emotional Education

I’ve utilized therapy since I was 16.  I’ve always viewed therapy as a resource.  I have never fully understood the stigma applied to therapy until I was older.  Until I met my husband.

I suggested that he find a therapist a few years into our marriage, and he made a weird snorting sound and scoffed, “I will never do that.  That’s for broken people.”  I took that in and pondered.  I went to therapy.  Did he see me as broken? What a weird point of view.

Our youngest daughter was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and comorbid anxiety disorder when she was three.  I took her to play therapy.  He seemed supportive.  Was she broken?

Then Eadaoin hit puberty and her subtle social anxiety soon became an anxiety disorder, and she required medication and therapy, too.  Was she broken?

Then the Big S invaded our home.  Grace developed childhood-onset schizophrenia, and therapy was the least of our problems.  Maybe she really was broken, but I was going to do whatever it took to put her back together again.

And guess who didn’t have the resiliency, communication skills, or emotional maturity to deal with any of it?

Him.

Of every member of my family, guess who is doing the most poorly?

Him.

Not Grace.  Not Milly.  Not Eadaoin.  Not even me.

Him.

You see, we all leave our families of origin with deficiencies, and we all have coping skills in place to compensate for those deficits.  We could have had the most wonderful parents, but there is no such thing as a perfect parent.  Even if our parents were perfect, we don’t grow up in the vacuum of our homes.  We go to school.  We make friends.  We travel, get jobs, and participate in extracurricular activities.  A lot happens to us as we are developing, making and losing friends, experiencing middle and high school.  We don’t emerge from the first 18 years of our lives unscathed.  Not a one of us.

We were not born knowing how to act or knowing what to do.  We learn by watching how the people around us act.  We learn what to say by modeling what others around us say.  We learn how to manage conflict by modeling how our family managed conflict.  Some people realize at a young age that what they are witnessing isn’t right.  They, however, don’t know what the healthy way is so they might fumble their way through.

This is where therapy comes in.  Contrary to popular belief, the therapeutic experience isn’t lying back and talking about your father while some mustachioed man smokes a pipe and writes on a legal pad.  In fact, that sounds a whole lot like the beginning of a porn film.  No, therapy doesn’t have to be client-centered at all (the Rogerian approach).  It can be entirely skills-based–a DBT skills group, for example.  The point is that “therapy” doesn’t have to be the four-letter word that so many people I’ve met think that it is.

Therapy is our gateway to growing up.  When we find a therapist that we like and trust, we can actually do the work of maturing and growing into the adults that we have always wanted to be.  How?

  • A good therapist walks with you through those memories that are holding you back in order to help you resolve them so that you no longer carry them, and they no longer define you.
  • A good therapist helps you learn to talk about your feelings so that you can communicate effectively within your relationships.
  • A good therapist validates you and your life experiences.  This is key because we need validation to feel safe and sane.
  • A good therapist teaches you how to self-validate so that you are no longer beholden to others for your validation and sense of self.
  • A good therapist models empathy which, hopefully, will teach us how to do the same.
  • A good therapist teaches us how to be empowered in our relationships forsaking victim thinking, codependency, and caretaking.
  • A good therapist provides a reality check and tough love when necessary so that we learn what true accountability in relationships looks like.
  • A good therapist guides us into learning distress tolerance so that we can give up maladaptive coping strategies that harm us and our relationships.
  • A good therapist provides insights into what motivates us so that we learn to become curious about ourselves and why we make certain choices.
  • A good therapist legitimizes separation, individuation, and differentiation from our parents which is so often the root of our suffering.
  • A good therapist teaches us a better way to think and shows us where we are believing negative things and, thusly, how those negative beliefs manifest in negative behaviors.

Therapy is the environment in which we continue developing as humans except that we have the opportunity to develop into better humans.  Therapy is meant to teach us so that we are equipped to deal with whatever life throws at us.

Who do you suppose does better in a crisis? The person who trusts themselves or the person who is rootless, anxious, and doesn’t trust anyone? Part of becoming an educated person is receiving an emotional education as well.  One of my favorite college professors once told a group of women that her goal in teaching us was to create educated women.  When asked what that meant, she replied, “To be truly educated means that you are critical thinkers.  It means that if you don’t know the answer to a question, then you know how to go about finding it.”

This is what it means to be emotionally educated.  It means that you are a critical thinker when it comes to yourself.  You are self-aware.  You understand your motives.  You know what you need.  You can self-advocate.  You can trust others.  You trust yourself.  You know how to ask for what you want, and you are not beholden to others for your sense of worth or sense of calm.  If you find yourself in difficult situations for which you are not equipped, then you know how to go about equipping yourself.  You know the skills you have, and you know the ones you need.  Lastly, you take responsibility for yourself–your actions, your feelings, your desires, and your needs.

This is what therapy can do for us.  All of those inadequacies that we see today? Those deficits in our personalities that we try to hide out of shame? Reframe them.  They are just opportunities when you put them in a therapeutic environment.  What if you simply need to learn a new skill? We will all be developing and maturing until the day we die, picking up more wisdom as we go.  Engaging in your own emotional education is not something to be ashamed of.  It should be celebrated.

Remaining emotionally illiterate because someone somewhere once said that only weak people see shrinks? I think that’s the least educated view of all.

Find a Therapist

 

 

Willing Partnerships

I underwent hip arthroscopy for a labral avulsion last Wednesday.  I had hoped for the debridement which meant that I’d be on crutches for a week and PT for a month.  Instead, there are now tiny anchors somewhere in my hip “anchoring” the detached labrum to its proper place.  It’s not a bad surgery really–two small incisions; but, it means four weeks on crutches and three months of PT.  Four to six months until I’m completely back to normal.  I can’t quite accept this.  I feel like I had the surgery months ago, and it was only eight days ago.  I have named my crutches Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.  

If you are a person who is a primary anything, then you might understand my next statement.  I feel like I’m going nuts.  I’m anxious.  Really, really anxious.  I have been the primary caregiver and doer-of-everything for almost eighteen years.  I can’t even unload the dishwasher now.  It’s an event to even get out of bed.  I hate it.  I haven’t left the house.  I don’t know when I’ll be able to drive.  I certainly can’t go to the grocery store alone.  I need help with everything.  I have become dependent upon everyone around me for help.

This reminds me of an exercise I had to do when I was in college.  When I transferred from that tiny private college in New York state to the giant mega-versity in Minnesota, I got a job lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons.  It wasn’t good enough that I had five years of experience or the gold standard Red Cross certification.  I had to go through another week of training because i would be working in a world-class facility designed to host NCAA and international competitions.  If an elite athlete needed rescuing, then we lifeguards would be the people to do that.  So, we were put through an exceptional amount of training and preparation.  We were also put through a great deal of diversity training.  

The exercise that stands out to me as I write this involved pairing off with another guard.  His name was Volkan.  He was from Turkey.  He was very respectful, kind, and handsome, as I recall.  He once told me that his name meant ‘volcano’, and then he said, “Like a volcano, I am peaceful on the outside but hot underneath,” and then he winked.  I was, therefore, very uncomfortable when we were put together for this exercise.  He always wore a tiny Speedo as many non-American males are wont to do, and I was wearing my red swimsuit with LIFEGUARD practically spackled across the chest.  He was required to blindfold me, and, for the sake of the exercise, I had to pretend that I was blind.  That was to be my temporary disability.  I then had to ask him where the bathroom was located, and I had to trust him to lead me from the entrance of the very large facility to the women’s locker room.  He tied the blindfold around my eyes very tightly.  I couldn’t see a thing.  I felt overwhelmingly vulnerable, and I also wondered if Volkan liked the exercise more than he should, recalling his prior flirtatious wink.

After I overcame my feelings of vulnerability, I felt paralyzed, leaning over, shuffling my feet.  All I could hear was Volkan’s voice guiding me.  He wasn’t supposed to touch me.  That was one of the requirements of the exercise.  We were supposed to respect every person that came into the facility and respecting their bodies was a requirement.  We could never just assume that we could touch them.  Sure, it would be easier to grab someone by the arm and lead them, but that’s pedantic and disrespectful.  What adult would want to be treated like that? I had to trust a guy that I barely knew to get me from point A to point B, and I felt almost exposed, blindfolded in my swimsuit.  That was the point though.  How might it feel to be blind? How might it feel not to know the way? How might it feel to need help from a stranger but not just a stranger? A strange voice? In a strange environment surrounded by strange noises and the echo and reverberations of bodies slapping against water, wet feet running past you? It’s disconcerting not to mention being half-dressed.  That, too me, amplified my dislike.  Would it have been so difficult had I been wearing pants? I like to wear pants.  I feel like I need them. 

Volkan did successfully lead me to the women’s locker room.  The sadist in me found comfort in knowing that Volkan had to wear the blindfold, too.  I had to lead him to the men’s locker room without touching him guiding him only with my voice.  It was a lot harder than I expected it to be.  I had such a strong urge to reach out and grab him saying, “Oh just come on then!” Do you know how long it takes to lead a blindfolded person through a huge facility to the locker room? A bloody long time! I realized how impatient I could be, and I saw how patient Volkan was.  We got to be friends after that.  I admired his fortitude, and he liked my “American humor”.  Had the term “snark” been in use back in the mid-90s, he would have used that word instead.  The two of us were continually scolded for not taking the exercise seriously enough.  That was my fault.  I kept saying inappropriate things while blindfolded.  What? I had to defend myself! I wasn’t wearing pants!

There are many metaphors embedded in this experience, but what stands out to me the most right now is the sudden loss of independence and self-reliance.  What did it feel like to be forced to rely on someone else’s perceptions of reality? What did it feel like to need another person so resolutely? How did I feel then when I couldn’t see? What would it have been like if Volkan would have been impatient, unkind, and expected me to act like a seeing person? 

I think of Grace as I write this or even Milly.  I think of anyone with a deficit who is expected to perform as if they are not deficient.  We are all deficient in some way, but many of our deficiencies don’t impact our lives in a significantly measurable way.  Mental illness, however, can impact us.  It can disable us.  Ask anyone who has endured a season of depression if their ability to function was impacted, and they will tell you that it was.  What about anxiety? Anxiety can be a crippling disability.  And, then we step into the realm of mood and psychotic disorders.  Entire families can be disabled.  

This diversity exercise worked between Volkan and me because we were both willing, and that also stands out.  I was willing to be led, and he was willing to patiently lead me.  It was a good partnership.  What if I had refused to engage or believed that Volkan was entirely responsible for me? What if Volkan refused to help me, not respected my dignity and dragged me to the locker room, or had begrudgingly helped me but had done so with a negative attitude? There are so many ways a partnership like that could go when applied to reality.  What if I believed that Volkan was out to get me or actively trying to hurt me, or Volkan resented being asked for help because he was in denial? He believed I wasn’t really blind at all.  This is a common dynamic in families where mental illness is diagnosed in a child–denial.  An effective partnership becomes next to impossible in that scenario.

Willingness is key, isn’t it? Willingness is one of the core DBT values that Eadaoin and I have been learning.  You don’t accomplish much in life if you aren’t willing.  There must be a willingness to listen, to learn, to practice perspective-taking, to validate, to be humble, to be open to other ideas and solutions, to try again, to try something new, to be wrong, to ask for help, to accept help, and to admit that you don’t know but that, given that you are willing to try again, you might very well know at some point.

For me, I have to be willing to sit this month out.  I have to be willing to let others do for me, and I’m not accustomed to that.  That means that the laundry will be folded differently.  Towels will be hung differently (we all have our ‘things’).  The girls will be eating a lot of gluten-free chicken strips, and my bed looks like a gerbil nest because my husband doesn’t know how to make it.  I have to be willing to look for what works and give up my perfectionism and ambition to do it all so that my hip heals properly.  I have to find the willingness to practice mindfulness and radical acceptance.  It’s easy to say.  Hard to do.

This experience also gives me new insight into Grace’s world.  She apologizes a lot because she feels like she’s always asking for help.  She feels like she’s too dependent, and, well, she has become dependent.  That, however, is not her doing or her fault.  It is the nature of her illness.  Right now, I need help with everything.  I can’t even carry a cup of coffee because I need my hands to use my crutches.  I am forced to rely on everyone around me as is Grace.  It is very unpleasant.  I feel very anxious.  I understand, at least a little bit, why Grace feels so much anxiety.  But, as long as she’s willing to ask for help and I’m willing to help her, we’ve got a working partnership.  I can reassure her that I don’t mind helping her because that’s what I need.  I see this now.  I need my husband to tell me that he doesn’t mind helping me.  What would be even better? I would like him to say that he likes helping me because he loves me.  That’s what I need to tell Grace then.  It’s a privilege to help her.  That would be even better.  I think that it’s normal to fear being a burden.  Why would it be different for her?

Enter willingness.

She’s willing to show up and so am I.  And, I think that’s true for every partnership in life.  Both people have to be willing to participate.  If you’ve got that, then you can go somewhere together.  

Willingness=Hope

 

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Every Thursday is DBT Day for Eadaoin and me.  She really doesn’t like it although I think she is learning a lot.  She will begrudgingly admit that.  I really like it, but I read psychology books for fun.

Yesterday, we began the unit on Interpersonal Effectiveness, and I was so excited.  This is the unit I’ve been waiting for.  I really want to increase my own interpersonal effectiveness, and I can’t wait to learn more skills.  I also want Eadaoin to walk away with one thing: We are successful in relationships when we have the skills to be.

Isn’t that an interesting idea? We weren’t born knowing how to communicate with respect.  We didn’t come with an imaged hard drive, pre-loaded knowing how to act, how to behave, how to adjust ourselves to every situation and circumstantial climate.  We have to learn how to do that.  We don’t instinctively know that feelings aren’t facts.  Thousands of years ago, if we felt fearful, then that was probably a valid instinct.  Fear meant ‘run’ or ‘fight’ or ‘freeze’.  Other mammals do it.  I came home the other night and saw four rabbits on my lawn.  They all just froze like little Peter Rabbit statues: “If I sit here, rooted to the ground, silent, and still, then the huge human coming toward me won’t see me.”

Does this instinct serve us now? Sometimes.  Always? No.  It doesn’t help us during a conflict at work or in a highly-valued relationship.  Feelings usually come with a language all their own like “What if…” and “I’ll never be able to…” and “I’m so _____” and “They always _____”, and these automatic thoughts often prevent us from getting what we want.  This is why learning Interpersonal Effectiveness is so important, and it starts with one question.

What is your goal?

The context for this question is relationships.  So, when we discuss “the goal” we are speaking in terms of our effectiveness in relationships be that at work, at school, in friendships, in parent/child relationships, in romantic relationships, etc.  There are three priorities that we keep in mind at all times when we discuss a goal in terms of interpersonal effectiveness:

  • The relationship
  • Our objective
  • Our self-respect

Here is an example:

Relationship: Keeping and maintaining healthy relationships

          QUESTIONS:

  1. How do I want the other person to feel about me?
  2. How do I get the other person to hear what I am saying?

Example: If I care about the person or if the person has authority over me (i.e. a boss), act in a way that keeps the person respecting and liking me.

Objective: Getting my goals met in any type of situation (getting what I want)

          QUESTIONS:

  1. What do I want?
  2. What do I need?
  3. How do I get it?

Example: To say ‘no’, to ask for something, to resolve a problem, to be listened to

Self-Respect: Keeping or improving how I feel about myself

QUESTIONS:

  1. How do I want to feel about myself after the interaction?

Example: What are my values and personal beliefs? Act in a way that makes me feel good about myself.

PRACTICE:

Think about these three goals as priorities.  When they are unclear, you may become indecisive.  For each interaction, it becomes a matter of what is most important, what is secondary, and what is tertiary.  For example, you may have had an interaction with a friend that didn’t go well.  S/he may have behaved in a way that hurt your feelings leaving you feeling conflicted.  Perhaps you know what motivated the behavior.  It really had nothing to do with you.  At the same time, you want to respect yourself, and you don’t feel that letting the conflict fall to the side unaddressed will nurture your own self-respect.  The relationship deserves the attention, and, truthfully, your friend ought to know that their actions, while not really about you, affected you negatively.  This act then becomes an act of self-care as well.

So, your list might look something like this:

What are my goals?

OBJECTIVE: to communicate kindly so that the rift in the relationship is healed #2

RELATIONSHIP: to preserve and nurture the relationship #1

SELF-RESPECT: speaking with kindness and honesty about how I feel will help me feel empowered in the relationship but will not come at my friend’s expense. #3

On paper this looks so easy, but it’s not.  This is all skills-based.

What stops us from achieving our goals?

1. Lack of skill

You actually do not know what to say or how to act. This is important to note.

Many times we think that a person is unwilling or lazy when, in fact, they lack the skills to know how to engage or problem-solve.  They may not even know what they want or need.  So, it is always very important to ask: Does this person have the skills to “do relationship”? Do they need help, mentoring, modeling, or coaching?

2. Worry thoughts

You have the skill, but your worry thoughts interfere with doing or saying what you want.  Some examples of worry thoughts are:

  • Worries about bad consequences: “They won’t like me.” or “He’ll think I’m stupid.”
  • Worries about whether you deserve to get what you want: “I’m such a bad person, I don’t deserve this.”
  • Worries about being ineffective and calling yourself names (self-judgments): “I won’t do it right.” or “I’m so stupid!”

3. Emotions

You have the skill, but your emotions (anger, frustration, fear, guilt, sadness) make you unable to do or say what you want.  Emotions, instead of skill, control what you say and do.

4. Can’t decide

You have the skill, but you can’t decide what to do or what you want.  You can’t figure out how to balance:

  • Asking for too much versus not asking for anything.
  • Saying no to everything versus giving in to everything.

5. Environment

You have the skill, but the environment gets in the way (this can be particularly relevant to work environments):

  • Other people are too powerful.
  • Other people may have some reason for not liking you if you get what you want.
  • Other people won’t give you what you want or need unless you sacrifice your self-respect.

I want to elaborate on the idea of worry thoughts because this is very common.  Many of us are not effective in our relationships, both personal and professional, because of what we believe.  We have a thought; we then believe that thought, and then that belief becomes an action.  Here are some common worry thoughts and corresponding “cheerleading” statements.  Do you relate to any of these statements?

  1. Why bother asking if it won’t make a difference anyway?
  2. If I ask for something, s/he’ll think I’m stupid.
  3. I’m such a bad person that I don’t deserve it.
  4. If I say no, they’ll never talk to me again.
  5. Saying no to a request is always a selfish thing to do.

VERSUS

  1. Just because I didn’t get what I wanted last time doesn’t mean that if I ask skillfully this time that I won’t get what I want. OR It never hurts to ask.
  2. It takes a strong person to admit that they need help from someone else and then ask for it.
  3. I can understand and validate another person and still ask for what I want.
  4. I can stand it if I don’t get what I want or need.  Nobody has ever died from being uncomfortable.
  5. If I say no to people and they get angry it doesn’t mean I should have said yes.
  6. I can still feel good about myself even though someone else is annoyed with me.
  7. I can make bad choices and still be a good person and receive good things.

This is an introduction to interpersonal effectiveness DBT-style.  My favorite part of this approach is the focus on self-respect.  Dignity is not a small thing.  I have seen so many relationships that seem to function at the expense of others.  We see this in office settings.  There isn’t true collaboration.  There is a power differential that thrives on stealing the self-respect of employees and adding it to the narcissistic manager.  This dynamic exists in friendships and marriages as well.  The notion that self-respect ought to be a priority and goal in all our interactions is encouraging and exciting.  It raises the bar.  The encouragement that we ought to step back and ask, “How do I want to feel about myself after this interaction is over?” is so refreshing because it reminds us that we are an equal partner in all our relationships, and we get to choose how we show up.  We choose how we caregive.  We choose how we work.  We choose how we treat others, and, in that choosing, how we feel about ourselves changes.  For better or for worse.  It does, however, place the responsibility for our actions fully on our shoulders.  This is a good thing.  It prevents victim thinking and keeps us empowered and aware.  Should we suddenly realize that the unspoken rules of a relationship, either professional or personal, prevent us from getting what we want–meeting our goals in terms of self-respect, relationship, and/or objective–then we have good information that we can use to take action.  Even if we can’t leave said relationship immediately, we know something that we didn’t before.  This framework provides a new way for experiencing ourselves, others, and the myriad relationships that we will have in our lives.

Adapted from Miller, Rathus, and Landsman (1999)

Resources:

Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha M. Linehan